Diets for captive breeding and hacking of saker falcons (Falco cherrug) in Bulgaria

R. Petrov1,2*, Y. Andonova1, D. Yarkov2, A. Dicheva1

1Green Balkans – Stara Zagora NGO, Stara planina str. 9, 6000 Stara Zagora, Bulgaria
2Department of General Livestock Breeding, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Trakia University, Student’s campus, 6000 Stara Zagora, Bulgaria

(Manuscript received 7 June 2022; accepted for publication 6 October 2022)

Abstract. With saker falcon populations on the mend globally, and in Bulgaria, special caution is taken to ensure the best possible care of the birds in their breeding programmes. Diets play a particularly important role as they affect the health of not only the breeding pairs, but also the young birds. With the ultimate goal for the captive-bred sakers being to reestablish viable saker falcon populations, releasing healthy falcons is paramount. As part of the ongoing saker falcon reintroduction efforts in Bulgaria, special emphasis was placed on well-rounded diets carefully tailored to the species, and the accompanying proper sanitation procedures. Outlined are best practices concerning the variety of dietary regimes for saker falcons in captivity and for released falcons based on their biology and behaviour. In captivity the meals were different for non-breeding birds, breeding birds, for nesting birds, and for birds with chicks in the nest. The hacked juvenile saker falcons had a change in diet every two weeks – starting with food similar to the one in the breeding facilities, to the more natural for the species meals. The different techniques aimed at replicating wild conditions resulted in a natural breeding behaviour for the saker falcons kept in captivity, and successful adaptation for the released juveniles. The meal preparation methods kept the risk of food-transmitted diseases to a minimum.